Friday, February 6, 2015

A Long Time Coming: Story with Too Much Description

 In the same spirit of your preferences for a wide variety of music, your interest in story stretches across the spectrum of drama.  You began getting the hang of story with so-called boy's adventure stories, because you were a boy, but ever more to the point because you craved adventure.

Your tastes in music took similar turns, your earliest preferences being what are still grouped under the tent of program music.  Of course, you would like the Overture to William Tell, because it was a direct link to a boy's adventure story.  

But there were musical versions of historical events (Tchaikowsky's Eighteen Twelve Overture), individuals (Richard Strauss' Til Eulenspiegel), and places (Ferde Grofe's The Grand Canyon Suite) which in their way were musical equivalents of adventure.  And there was swing and big-band jazz, and small band jazz, such as Count Basie, which led you across the musical aisle to chamber music.

Of even greater course, your tastes in both mediums grew with the pleasures you found in each, how each could express ideas and feelings.  In addition to feelings, each medium, story and music, was based in time.  Each has tempo, pace, an accelerated sense of movement toward a resolution. When you became aware of Schubert's Unfinished Symphony, you were disturbed by the thought that you'd never be able to hear "the way it turned out."  

Well before you began getting the hang of how story was supposed to approach some form of resolution, you spent hours listening to classical music for its inherent sense of form.  Of the many reasons you began to favor Beethoven, the most obvious was the way you could always tell when he was through with something.  He made sure you knew.  The early you mixed metaphors of you seeing him as Donald Duck, losing his calm, growing impatient until, goddamnit, this is the end, you understand me?

Come on, admit it; you were well along in the writing game before you saw more of a direct connection between notes and words, pacing, tempo, theme, sub-theme, subtext.  As of this minute, you can say, every moment in a story should have some direct bearing on the story before us.  Even distractions or the verbal equivalents of cadenzas ought to have relevance, adding notes of character and feeling rather than mere  melodic design.

Most of the fiction authors with whom you grew up still allowed themselves to step into the story from time to time, reminding us how "Fred's steely-gray eyes narrowed," as though every significant time Fred narrowed his eyes, he was aware of their color.  Sometimes, when you're picking out a shirt or a sweater, you're pairing them with the hazel of your eyes, but you have not gone around flashing your hazel eyes at anyone for a number of years.

Of even greater course yet, knowing one thing not to do such as having a character aware of his/her own eye color, was not going to get you anywhere unless you had a compelling story from word one, sentence one.  Story may not, in the long run, be everything, but it is not subordinate to detail.  With some writers, including those you admire, story can be subordinate to character, but character, then, must be of awesome power to bring the reader along.

While you were in the early midst of comparing music with story, you were quite fond of believing--and announcing to all within earshot--how characters are remembered more so than the story in which they appeared.  Yes, Jean Valjean stole a loaf of bread.  And yes, Inspector Jaivert set after him once he'd escaped from prison, but do we remember all the twists and turns?  Do you always remember the pathos of the ending?

Many, many of the authors you came up on were not even from your century; you had, in effect, to grasp story the way their conventions grasped it, then go back to remove such tells from your own work.  It was not so much because you were bent on copying them as it was a matter of them being so good with the tools, psychology, and convention at their disposal.

You remember at one point, telling another wannabe writer friend of your dismay at discovering all those freaking adverbs in Fitzgerald.  Steinbeck, too; surely he'd have known, because the one time you met him, he seemed as though he knew--and regretted--everything.  Ah, what he was regretting was having moved east, to New York.  But you did not see that, back then.

For the longest time, you were first reader then editor of a long-time pal, who, in spite of all the discussions about adverbs, never turned a potential adverb away.  He called you a magician in the dedication to his penultimate novel, but he was the magician; you were merely sweeping up after him.


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